The “trail closed” signs are gone and the ribbon is cut: Tonawanda Rails to Trails is open for business.
People have been walking, biking and skating on the path all year, eager to work out and commute on the 4-mile trail, which stretches from Kenmore Avenue in the Town of Tonawanda north to State Street in the City of Tonawanda.
But with the contractor’s work complete, an official opening was held Thursday morning.
Shannon Hurst and Jenna Ciffa were among the bicyclists, walkers and joggers out using the trail on a sultry summer day.
“It’s awesome,” said Hurst, 28. “It’s so much easier than riding out by the water, even though it’s prettier over there. But it’s nice and flat.”
Ciffa suggested they ride the new trail after she noticed the new HAWK, short for high-intensity activated crosswalk, beacon on Sheridan Drive. The HAWK is a traffic control device new to the state designed to help trail users safely cross the busy roadway.
“I just love seeing people outside, actually doing stuff outside together,” said Ciffa, 24, standing where the trail crosses Brighton Road at Kenney Field.
Earlier at that spot, Town Supervisor Joe Emminger acknowledged the official opening was a bit “anticlimactic,” considering the number of people already regularly using the trail.
“We haven’t been able to go anywhere over the last eight months without everybody raving about the rails to trails project,” he said.
The 12-foot-wide asphalt trail was built by Erie County atop a former railroad right of way and connects to the new North Buffalo Rails to Trails at Kenmore Avenue.
“It takes an old unused railway bed and turns it into something that we know hundreds of individuals are taking advantage of on their bikes daily,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. “It’s creating a better, more connected society.”
Construction was funded by $2.8 million from the federal government, and $700,000 from the county, but “funds have dried up for projects like this,” he said.
Town officials see great potential for future enhancements such as bike repair stations, said Emminger.
“This is just the beginning of this trail and we look forward to the next five, 10 years,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hurst and Ciffa were just enjoying Tonawanda’s newest recreation amenity under the midday sun.
“We love it,” said Ciffa. “We’ll ride it tomorrow, too.”